I often find myself trying to explain why a Kiwi girl married to an Aussie living in Bermuda thinks there are parallels between the international sailing community and a rural village community in Uganda. It all seems a bit improbable. … Continue reading
For years there had been talk of a secondary school affiliated with KAASO. People in the local community has asked Dominic and Rose if they would establish another school to help educate those leaving KAASO but resources were too few and time was too short.
However, thanks to the extraordinary dedication of a man named Zaake, this dream became a reality. Zaake, a local businessman dealing in Chinese imports, was passionate about developing the community surrounding Kabira. His children had gone through KAASO but then had had to leave to go to secondary schools far away as there were no reputable schools in the area. If Dominic and Rose would agree to help oversee the educational side of things, Zaake would fully fund and oversee the creation of the school. And thus Zaake Secondary School was born.
In December last year I visited the construction site where the school was being built. Wooden scaffolding clung to the red-earth bricks and I wondered how it would ever be ready in time for the new year.
However, any doubts were put to rest on 18th January this year when the school was officially opened and its classrooms filled with old students of KAASO and dozens of other children from the surrounding villages. It was a huge accomplishment and since then I have been eagerly following the progress of the school and its students.
Thanks to Lara Briz, a fellow volunteer who returns regularly to KAASO, I am able to share with you photos of Zaake Secondary School today, functioning and completed and a most impressive facility for the people of Rakai.
Looking at these photos makes me beam with pride at how far the KAASO community has come in the past five years since I first fell in love with this remarkable place. It’s incredible what can be achieved when the determination, dedication and passion of a people is ignited.
It is the beginning of the end. I am now in Kampala on the start of my long journey ‘home’. Home being London for 48 hours then the south of France where I will be working on the Louis Vuitton Trophy for three intense weeks before crossing the Atlantic on the good ship Sojourn… Nothing seems quite real and my head is spinning trying to comprehend the fact that I have, after six incredible months, left KAASO and will soon be out of Africa. Half a year seemed like such a long time from the outset and there were definitely times when it felt like time was standing still – when you’re tired, when you’re scared, when there are bats in your room, when the pump is broken and you have no water, when the solar power dies yet again and you’re sitting in darkness… But these last few days have flown by so quickly and now I’m left wondering where the time has gone. I will soon be sitting on a plane wondering if this was all a dream, knowing that I will never fully be able to comprehend all that has happened, all I have seen and done and been fortunate enough to have been a part of for the last six months. It’s overwhelming.
This last week has been an extended farewell, a week of finality – final classes, final songs, final hugs, final smiles, final meals, final bucket bathes, final discos, final KAASO hill evenings, final goodbyes and, inevitably, final tears. It’s so difficult leaving such a special place not knowing when I will be back, not knowing when I will see these gorgeous little faces again. But one thing that has emerged over the past months is that there is no way I cannot return. Somehow, I will find a way to get back to this incredible world. I don’t think I could live here forever – I have missed the sea, missed family and friends, drinkable wine, food other than matooke and beans and I am a beach girl at heart – but Uganda will forever be a part of me, part of my history and a part of my soul and the idea of walking away forever is incomprehensible. So I will be back, this much I know. The ‘how’ will follow…
Before leaving, I spent as much time as possible with the children, in classes and around the school, trying to make the most of my final days with them and making sure these memories were etched in my mind forever.
The teachers tried to explain to the younger children that we were leaving and would not be coming back (for now) but I don’t quite think they understood. The older children certainly did though and we received floods of letters and notes asking us not to go and telling us that they will never forget us. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to leave.
The roof of the bus was loaded to the heavens with baskets, chickens, sacks of rice, people and two Kathmandu packs. Inside were dozens of old men, women, children, babies, more chickens and two dusty Kiwis.
The road looked more like a dried up river bed than anything passable for a 4WD, never mind a bus and it almost got the better of us. At one point we had to all jump out as the yellow bus rocked wildly, stuck in the sand and they thought we might tip over – so better to watch from the sidelines. Somehow the bus was freed without flipping and we continued into the wild. We were dropped on the side of the road (in what turned out to be the wrong town) where we waited. And waited. Eventually two lone motorbikes appeared on the horizon, pulled up in front of us and motioned to get on the back. We assumed they were for us. We sped over more dusty roads as the sun set over Mt Kilimanjaro, rising spectacularly before us. We swerved onto a bridge made from branches and pulled up outside a wooden house in the bush. A man with circles branded onto each cheek, the mark of the Maasai, came from the house and extended his arms in greeting – supa! We had arrived in Maasailand, our home for the coming days…
I have never experienced such incredible hospitality, such generosity, such kindness of spirit, such a desire to teach or such a passion to preserve a unique and beautiful culture as my time with the Maasai. Tumaina, our host, went out of his way to ensure we felt at home – despite being so far away from home in every possible sense. We were warmly welcomed by the entire community of Rombo, a Maasai settlement on the Kenya/Tanzanian border in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro and from the moment we arrived, Tumaina made sure we were well looked after. There was hot water waiting for us to bathe (in a bucket but it still felt like luxury), rice and beans to eat, sweet Maasai tea to drink, and waiting under our pillows were beautiful beaded necklaces that his mother had made for our arrival. We were blown away.
Tumaina was determined to teach us the ways of the Maasai and the first morning was a hilarious occasion – he left the two city girls in the bush to start a fire and keep it going to cook our omelettes (Maasai style) and heat milky tea for breakfast. Inevitably we used all the wrong wood and leaves and the fire went out but he patiently showed us which ones worked best, which ones they used in the bush and soon the fire was roaring. We cooked up a feast – there was no way we were ever going to go hungry here, despite there being the worst drought in living memory with carcasses of cows littering the bush, we were to eat like queens.
A friend of Tumaina’s arrived to take us to visit his house. When I asked him where he lived, he replied ‘On the border with Tanzania.’ That sounded like an adventure. And far away. And of course we were to use the only transport possible – our legs. Two hours in the scorching sun through land drier than I have ever seen in my life, past withered cows and people (Mayeni, our host for the day, told us that 70% of the Maasai cows had been lost this season and the elderly are also dying – not from hunger or thirst but from broken hearts – here cows are valued as highly as people) until we finally reached a dusty crossroads with nothing but a donkey to mark the spot. This was the border with Tanzania.The Maasai do not recognise the difference between Kenya and Tanzania – this is Maasailand and they live within it. The government and others can make arbitrary borders but this is their land and there is no distinction made between the Maasai from either side – they are one people, united, strong and proud.